Royal Marines in the Indian Ocean

1st Royal Marine Anti-Aircraft Brigade

1st R.M. A.A. Brigade

Egypt: December 1941 – January 1942

At the beginning of December 1941, the Air Defence Brigade of M.N.D.B.O.1 had been reorganised in Egypt into:

- 1st R.M. A.A. Regiment (‘A’ and ‘B’ A.A. Batteries RM, 22nd Light A.A. Battery R.M.),
- 2nd R.M. A.A. Regiment (‘C’ and ‘D’ A.A. Batteries RM, 23rd Light A.A. Battery R.M.),
- 11th R.M. Searchlight Regiment (‘R’ & ‘S’ Searchlight Batteries R.M.).

‘A’ Battery was at cadre strength only.

At the end of December 1941, a major reorganisation of the R.M. anti-aircraft units took place.  The 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade came into being by reorganisation and re-designation of the 1st Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.M.  The 2nd Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.M.  was re-designated to become the 1st R.M. (Heavy) Anti-Aircraft Regiment with ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Anti-Aircraft Batteries, R.M., each with eight 3.7-inch guns.  ‘A’ Battery was amalgamated with ‘C’ Battery and the new battery remained as ‘C’ Battery.  The 22nd L.A.A. Battery R.M., having absorbed ‘A’ Troop and elements of Battery H.Q., 23rd L.A.A. Battery, became an independent unit with sixteen 40mm Bofors guns in four troops.  The Battery was then taken off strength of the 1st A.A. Regiment to operate as an independent battery under the command of the 1st Brigade.  The 2nd Royal Marine A.A. Regiment was formed at the same time with personnel left over from the amalgamation of ‘A’ and ‘C’ Batteries, but with only the 23rd L.A.A. Battery R.M. under command.  The 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade was formed officially on 29th December at El Tahag Camp, Egypt.  Under command were the 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M. and the 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M.  Colonel C.T. Brown, commander of the Brigade, arrived at El Tahag on 31st December.[1] 

Headquarters, Anti-Aircraft Command Ceylon

Ceylon: February – August 1942

The SS ‘City of Paris’ sailed from Suez on 16th January 1942 and arrived at Aden on 21st January with 1,375 personnel of M.N.B.D.O.1, including Headquarters, 1st Royal Marine Anti-Aircraft Brigade and the 1st R.M. (Heavy) Anti-Aircraft Regiment on-board.   It sailed from Aden in Convoy AJ1-1 along with the SS ‘Yoma and arrived at Colombo on 1st February 1942.  The Headquarters, 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M. with ‘D’ Battery and the 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M., less ‘A’ Troop deployed to Trincomalee on 2nd February 1942, arriving there the following day.  Brigade Headquarters with ‘C’ and ‘B’ Batteries and ‘A’ Troop, 22nd L.A.A. Battery remained in Colombo.  ‘B’ Battery moved from Colombo to Trincomalee on 13th February.[2]

Upon arrival in Ceylon, the Commanding Officer of the Brigade, Colonel C.T. Brown, R.M. assumed command of all anti-aircraft defences in Ceylon and became known as the Commander Anti-Aircraft, Ceylon.  The Brigade Headquarters became designated as Headquarters, Anti-Aircraft Command Ceylon.  It is difficult to pin down the exact date these changes occurred however, Colonel, now Brigadier, Brown assumed command of all anti-aircraft defences in Ceylon on 15th March 1942.[3]

On 6th March 1942, the 65th Heavy and the 43rd and 55th Light A.A. Regiments, R.A. arrived at Ceylon from the United Kingdom and came under the command of H.Q., A.A. Command Ceylon.  ‘A’ Troop, 22nd L.A.A. Battery, in Colombo, was joined by a Royal Navy troop equipped with 12-pounder guns which was attached to the Royal Marines Battery on 21st March.

On 5th and 9th April 1942, Japanese carrier-borne planes attacked Ceylon.  ‘A’ Troop, 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M. claimed three hits on enemy aircraft during the raid on Colombo.  Following the raid on Trincomalee on 9th April, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Batteries, R.M. each claimed two enemy planes destroyed whilst the 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M. claimed four.  One plane was claimed destroyed by the 163rd L.A.A. Battery, R.A.[4]

During the weeks that followed, additional units arrived and came under command.  On 5th April 1942, the ‘Devon’ L.A.A. Battery, Royal Marines, was formed and began training. No. 2 Troop of the Battery was ready for action at Colombo on 5th May 1942 and was followed by No. 1 Troop on 27th May.  The 56th Heavy (less one battery) and the 76th Light A.A. Regiments, R.A. arrived at Colombo on 28th May 1942.  The 23rd L.A.A. Regiment, R.A. arrived at Colombo on 1st July 1942, followed by the 54th Heavy A.A. Regiment, R.A. on 9th July.  On 24th July 1942, news was received that the commanding officer, Brigadier C.T. Brown, had been killed in an air accident in India.

1st R.M. A.A. Brigade

Ceylon: September 1942 – March 1943

The 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade Headquarters returned to the Ceylon order of battle at the end of August or early September 1942, when the headquarters ceased to be H.Q. A.A. Command Ceylon.  The responsibilities for anti-aircraft defence on Ceylon were now split between the newly formed 23rd A.A. Brigade and the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade.  The brigade headquarters were responsible for the southern area based on Colombo and the northern area based on Trincomalee respectively and appear to have been commanded by a Brigadier A.A. post within the headquarters of Ceylon Army Command.  The war diary of ‘Devon’ L.A.A. Battery, R.M. notes that on 1st September, all anti-aircraft units in Colombo were taken over by the Commandant, Base Area, Colombo.[5]

From 2nd March 1943, the Royal Marine units under the command of the Brigade began to concentrate at the Royal Marines camp at Wilson’s Plains in preparation for transfer to India.  The Brigade H.Q. handed over its commitments to the 24th A.A. Brigade at Trincomalee on 15th March 1943.[6]  

India: April – August 1943

On 9th April 1943, the Brigade H.Q. and the 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M. entrained for Bombay.  They were followed the next day by the R.H.Q., ‘C’ and ‘D’ Batteries, 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M.  The Brigade Headquarters arrived at Bombay on 15th April 1943 and assumed command of the air defence of Bombay two days later.  ‘C’ and ‘D’ Batteries arrived the next day.  ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Troops, 22nd L.A.A. Battery, R.M. relieved the 12th L.A.A. Battery, I.A. and took over their twelve guns.  ‘C’ Troop took over the duties as Naval Patrol.  ‘B’ Battery, 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M. remained in Ceylon, moving from Colombo to Trincomalee on 21st April 1943 and coming under the command of the 24th A.A. Brigade the next day.[7]

Brigadier Thomas took over command of the Brigade on 6th June 1943.  On 1st July 1943, the 1st H.A.A. Regiment R.M. reverted to being an ‘anti-aircraft’ regiment, dropping the word “Heavy” from its title, when it took under command the 22nd L.A.A. Battery.  At the same time, ‘B’ Battery in Ceylon became part of the 2nd A.A. Regiment, R.M.[8]

In August 1943, the Brigade was relieved of all anti-aircraft defence commitments in Bombay prior to an anticipated move to Ceylon, for which a movement order was received on 16th August.  However, on 19th August new orders were received from H.Q. Southern Army; the Brigade was now to remain in India.   Four days later, further orders were received that the Brigade was to come under the command of the Headquarters, Indian Expeditionary Force, at that time training selected formations for combined operations.  Brigade H.Q. was to be established in the Juhu area and the 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M. was to concentrate at Bhiwandi at the end of September 1943.[9]

India: September – October 1943

H.Q. Indian Expeditionary Force

Back in July 1943, the Royal Marines Group, M.N.B.D.O. I had set out to create two new formations known as Mobile Naval Base Brigades.  It is assumed that the role of these new formations was the support of amphibious landings of the type then being planned in South East Asia.  Each such brigade was to include a mix of coastal defence artillery, anti-aircraft artillery and infantry.  This would provide a balanced formation trained to go ashore once a beachhead had been established to defend the lodgement from attack by sea or air.  Although these formations were never used as intended, the idea was picked up later by S.E.A.C. planners who included coast defence batteries in the orders of battle for anti-aircraft brigades designated to accompany any invasion force.

The first such Royal Marine formation, 1 Mobile Naval Base Brigade was not formed immediately but the second, the 3 M.N.B. Brigade, came into being on 24th July 1943 in Ceylon.  When in September 1943, the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade came under command of the H.Q. Indian Expeditionary Force the Commander-in-Chief Eastern Fleet agreed that a number of Royal Marines units then in Ceylon, should also come under this command, with effect from 15th September 1943.  Rather than create an additional brigade headquarters, the 1 M.N.B. Brigade, it was decided that the Headquarters of the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade would take on the additional responsibility to act as the mobile base headquarters.

The additional Royal Marines units of M.N.B.D.O. I involved were listed as:

- one searchlight battery with twelve lights ('R' Searchlight Battery, R.M.),
- one A.M.T.B. (Anti-Motor Torpedo Boat) battery of two troops each with three Bofors guns with lights (‘Chatham’ Battery),[10]
- two 4-inch coast defence guns ( ‘Z’ Battery),
- three sections of R.M. Provost,
- the 11th Battalion, Royal Marines,
- gun crews for 'Z' craft fitted out as flak ships.

It was proposed that the searchlight and A.M.T.B. batteries and the coast defence guns remain in Ceylon until decisions had been made as to how the units would be employed on combined operations.  However, the 11th Battalion, R.M. was to be placed under command of the 36th Indian Infantry Division and move to Poona.[11]   

The Brigade duly came under the command of the Indian Expeditionary Force from 15th September 1943.  Headquarters moved to Juhu between 15th and 24th September.   On 14th October 1943, the Brigade was ordered to move to Gulunche, near Poona, and the Advance Brigade H.Q. moved there on 27th October.  The main body completed the move on 8th November.  The 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade arrived in Gulunche from Juhu on 7th November 1943.  The three coast batteries – ‘Chatham’, ‘Z’ and ‘R’ Searchlight Batteries - left Ceylon on 5th November and arrived at Gulunche on 11th November where they came under command of the 1st A.A. Brigade.[12] 

India: November 1943 – January 1944

H.Q. XXXIII Indian Corps

By the beginning of November 1943, the H.Q. Indian Expeditionary Force had been disbanded and merged with the H.Q. XXXIII Indian Corps to form a new XXXIII Indian Corps.  The 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade came under this new headquarters.[13] 

On 14th October, a number of Royal Artillery units were placed under the command of the Brigade, of which the major ones were:

- 60th L.A.A. Regiment, R.A.
- 101st H.A.A. Regiment, R.A.
- 165th Battery, 56th H.A.A. Regiment, R.A.[14]

When Brigadier J.H.G. Wills, previously commander of the 3 Mobile Naval Base Brigade in Ceylon, took over command of the Brigade on 11th November he conducted a series of reviews with the commanders of the units under his command.  He interviewed Major T.D.S. Adams, the C.O. of 'R' Searchlight Battery on 19th November and Major A.E. Chilcott, O.C. ‘Chatham’ Battery, R.M. the following day.  On 23rd November the Brigadier inspected the equipment of 'R' Searchlight Battery and of 'Z' Battery.  As an aside, Wills went on to interview the commanding officers of most of the units under his command, all of whom he found to be unsatisfactory.  On 11th December 1943, the Brigadier visited the H.Q. XXXIII Indian Corps to discuss the adverse confidential reports given on a number of officers.  It is difficult to tell from the war diary whether Brigadier Wills was a martinet or had the backing of the Corps Commander for a much needed shake up.[15] 

In December, the 101st H.A.A. Regiment, R.A., itself under the command of the 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, received orders to provide transport for the ‘Coast Defence units of 1 R.M A.A. Brigade' to take them from Gulunche to Bombay where they were to carry out firing practice.  The Royal Marine coast defence units were placed under the commander of ‘Chatham’ Battery for the purposes of the move.  In addition to ‘Chatham’ Battery, was 'Z' Battery, R.M.  The firing practice was to begin on 15th December 1943.[16]

The Brigade remained at Gulunche into January 1944 and on 13th January Headquarters, XXXIII Indian Corps passed on a warning order for the Brigade and its Royal Marines units to move overseas.  Projected amphibious operations in South East Asia had been postponed for the foreseeable future and the Royal Marines were needed elsewhere.  Preparations began immediately.  Responsibility for the Royal Artillery units under the command of the Brigade was handed over to ‘the new R.A. Anti-Aircraft’ Brigade on 18th January 1944 (this eventually came to the 9th A.A. Brigade).[17]  On 26th January, the Headquarters, 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade left Gulunche for Bombay.  The next day, the Headquarters embarked upon H.T. G.4 and the ship sailed two days later.[18]

United Kingdom: March – May 1944

The ship arrived at Suez on 8th February 1944 and all Royal Marines personnel disembarked and went to a transit camp.  Brigadier Wills left for the United Kingdom and command of the Brigade was assumed by Lt. Colonel R. Garrett, D.S.O., R.M.  Personnel re-embarked on H.T. G.4 on 24th February and the ship entered the Suez Canal on 27th February.  It left Port Said on 2nd March and arrived in the Clyde on 23rd March.  The men disembarked the next day and Brigade Headquarters was set up at St. Phillans, Skelmorlie.  Foreign Service Leave began for the majority of the men.  Captain D.G. Hawker, R.M. assumed command of the Brigade Headquarters on 1st April but left 7th April to be succeeded by Lieutenant E.G. Groves.  Captain T.R. Watts, R.M. returned from leave on 29th April and took command.  He in turn was succeeded by Captain C. MacLennan on 3rd May.  On 17th May, the Brigade Headquarters moved to Sea Beach Camp, Stevenson, Ayrshire and later that day was disbanded.[19]

02 July 2022

[1] War diary M.N.B.D.O. I, ADM 202/132; War diary 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, ADM 202/149

[2] ADM 202/149

[3] ADM 202/149

[4] ADM 202/149; War diary 1st H.A.A. Regiment, R.M., ADM 202/153

[5] War diary 23rd A.A. Brigade, WO 172/3790; War diary H.Q. A.A. Command Ceylon, WO 172/1521; War diary 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, ADM 202/149; War diary 1st R.M. A.A. Brigade, WO 172/1522; “The Royal Marines, 1919-1980”, Ladd J.D., Jane’s (1980); War diary ‘Devon’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/172

[6] War diary of the 1st Royal Marine A.A. Brigade, WO 172/2139; War diary 24th A.A. Brigade, WO 172/3792

[7] WO 172/3788; War diary 24th A.A. Brigade, WO 172/3792

[8] WO 172/2139

[9] WO 172/2139

[10] War diary 3rd Coast Regiment, R.M., ADM 202/192

[11] WO 172/2139  [1808]

[12] WO 172/2139

[13] WO 106/3777  [1524-5]; WO 172/2139; War diary 1st C.A. Brigade/1st Coast Regiment R.M., ADM 202/167; War diary ‘Chatham’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/169; War Diary ‘R’ Battery, R.M., ADM 202/164

[14] WO 106/4588; WO 172/2139; War diary 101st H.A.A. Regiment, R.A., WO 172/2345

[15] WO 172/2139

[16] WO 172/2345

[17] When the 1st Royal Marine Anti-Aircraft Brigade was recalled to the United Kingdom at the beginning of 1944, a mobile anti-aircraft brigade had to be found to replace the Royal Marines in XXXIII Corps.  The 9th A.A. Brigade was selected and the 3rd Indian A.A. Brigade, which had been earmarked to replace either the 23rd or 24th A.A. Brigade Headquarters in Ceylon, was instead chosen to replace the 9th Brigade in 14th Army (WO 203/1713).  On 16th April 1944 at 00:01 at Panitola, the Headquarters, 9th Anti-Aircraft Brigade handed over to the Headquarters, 3rd Indian Anti-Aircraft Brigade.  The incoming headquarters took over command of all units at that time under the command of the outgoing brigade.  The 9th Anti-Aircraft Brigade then moved to the Gulunche, in the Poona area, in May 1944.  The Brigade was now responsible for preparing British anti-aircraft units for the combined operations assault role.

[18] War diary of the 1st Royal Marine A.A. Brigade, ADM 202/151

[19] ADM 202/151